Hop on the KTX to experience the sight-seeing and nightlife of this South Chungcheong city.
I first moved to Cheonan, a city less than an hour’s KTX ride south of Seoul, in 2007. Back then, it was home to a small, tightly knit foreigner community, and the closest thing we had to global cuisine was the twenty-four McDonalds. Since then, the city’s social scene has gone from strength to strength along with the rapidly increasing foreigner population, which has tripled in the last five years.
Cheonan offers much more than the average expat party scene. For the history buffs among you, there is Independence Hall (041-1330), which focuses on the independence movement during the Japanese colonization and boasts the largest exhibition facility in Korea. In addition, the adjoining city of Asan is home to the beautiful Hyeonchung Shrine (hcs.go.kr), which is dedicated to Admiral Yi Sun-sin, as well as lush greenery, sparkling koi ponds and beautiful gardens.
During the warmer months, a trip to Cheonan would not be complete without a visit to the famous bronze Buddha at Gakwon Temple. It sits regally at the base of Taejo Mountain, which has excellent trails for a relaxing afternoon hike. Hiking is a popular pasttime in these parts – the Cheonan Asan Mountaineers (or CAM) hiking group organizes local hikes with like-minded folks. Search for “Cheonan Asan Mountaineers” on Facebook for more information.
After the Sun Sets
Of course, if you’re more of a night owl than a day-tripper, there’s still plenty to do. Start exploring the bar scene at the recently opened Dolce Bar (041-565-5863), conveniently located mere minutes from the Cheonan train station. The lively bar manager Louis Jong-hyeok Lee works tirelessly organizing entertainment, with new events all the time. Step through the doors and you could find yourself at a salsa night, rock night, or 80s party. One of the most popular events is the weekly Brew and View, a night where a popular film is selected and watched—with a corresponding drinking game.
Across town and tucked away in the side streets of the bustling downtown district is the popular and somewhat suggestively named Banana Bar. Run by the friendly Mr. Oh, this lively basement bar boasts the occasional band night, as well as a weekly open mic night, where talented locals are encouraged to come out and strut their stuff. Search for “Banana Bar – Cheonan, South Korea” on Facebook.
Fun for foodies
Bars and buddhas aside, the city is also home to some excellent eateries. For terrific Thai, try the phenomenal Baan Thai (041-545-9797), located on the outskirts of the neighboring city of Asan. If it’s curry that you crave, the Indian restaurant Mount Fishtail (041-555-3612), just a few steps from Cheonan train station, will more than meet your needs.
Cheonan also offers an abundance of fine Italian restaurants. In the downtown area, opposite the shopping behemoth that is Shinsegae Department Store, is the legendary Dono Marcos (041-553-4554), a tiny but exquisite Italian restaurant. The head chef spent time studying Italian cuisine in Italy, and it shows. The fettuccine manzo (flat noodles with sautéed beef and vegetables in a rich, creamy sauce) is particularly decadent and delicious. Be sure to book ahead as it fills up quickly at dinnertime. Further along the same street is the excellent Riposos (041-523-2390), another fine ristorante with a more extensive pizza menu. Tre formaggio, gorgonzola, and prosciutto are just a few of the available toppings. Even better, every order includes a free soup, salad and dessert.
If you’d rather eat in than eat out, be sure to drop by the new Galleria, opposite Cheonan-Asan KTX station. It offers not only a top quality shopping experience, with plenty of high end brands and bargain fashion, but also an impressive range of international fare and hard-to-find items in the grocery department. Foodies and shopaholics alike are sure to be impressed.
In the middle of everything
Thanks to its central location in South Chungcheong Province and well-connected transportation system, Cheonan can be easily reached by regular buses, trains and KTX trains from all over the country. And with so much to see and do, one could easily spend a weekend or two exploring the city and all that it has to offer. Why not head to Cheonan soon, and see what all the fuss is about?